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When Tampa Bay’s 2004 regular season ended, the Bucs only had two receivers — Michael Clayton and Joe Jurevicius — under contract for the 2005 season, and although they’ve since signed several receivers to future contracts, the Bucs will undoubtedly target a wide receiver on the first day of the upcoming NFL Draft.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and his staff are getting a nice look at several talented receivers, including Georgia receivers Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson, UAB WR Roddy White, Florida State WR Craphonso Thorpe and Texas A&M WR Terrence Murphy, all of whom are playing for Gruden’s South squad at Senior Bowl.
But most of the buzz swirling around Senior Bowl this week has not involved the receivers that made names for themselves in college. Instead, the buzz is about Matt Jones, who played quarterback at Arkansas but is being used as a wide receiver and tight end for the South squad.
With three quarterbacks already named to the South squad — Auburn’s Jason Campbell, Georgia’s David Greene and Arizona State’s Andrew Walter — the Senior Bowl committee made a special provision for the 6-foot-6, 237-pound Jones to participate as a wide receiver/tight end since he will likely play another position other than quarterback in the National Football League.
Jones finished his Arkansas career by completing 417-of-755 passes (55.2 percent) for 5,857 yards with 53 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. While those passing numbers aren’t overly impressive, his athleticism, size and ability to run the football make him an intriguing pro prospect.
In fact, Jones is the SEC’s all-time leading rusher with 2,535 yards on 382 carries (6.6 avg.) and produced 24 rushing touchdowns during his collegiate career. Pewter Report editor-in-chief Scott Reynolds outlined even more of Jones’ impressive feats and numbers in the Jan. 15 edition of SR’s Fab Five.
Jones has created quite a buzz on the football field in Mobile, but it’s not just because he towers over defensive backs. Thanks to Bucs offensive quality control coach Kyle Shanahan, Jones has actually been able to make some nice plays as a receiver/tight end in the South squad’s first two practices.
“Kyle has been really great with me,” said Jones. “He’s been talking with me and able to spend extra time with me. He’s been available to talk to me about stuff. He’s kind of been my little partner out there to help me.”
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden charged Shanahan with the task of giving Jones a two-hour crash course on how to play receiver before the South squad held its first organized practice Monday. Shanahan apparently did a good job since Gruden and several NFL scouts and coaches in attendance took notice to some of the impressive plays Jones has made on the field.
“It’s hard,” Gruden said of the transition Jones is making. “He’s a great kid and he’s got his own coach here in Kyle Shanahan. They work together from morning to dusk. I give him credit. There’s pressure on him here in Mobile with everyone watching, but he’s eager and he’s got a lot of athletic talent, whether it’s at wide receiver, quarterback or tight end. We’re going to try to showcase him at all three positions.”
While Gruden gave Kyle Shanahan credit for helping to bring Jones along so quickly, the son of Denver head coach Mike Shanahan didn’t hesitate to credit Jones for making somewhat of a smooth transition.
“I had about two hours to teach him how to play wide receiver, but the guy’s a natural,” said Shanahan. “He does pretty much everything natural — he’s a good athlete.”
Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann said he’s also impressed with what he’s seen from Jones so far, but he’s not ready to make a full evaluation just yet.
“It’s early, but I was pleasantly surprised with the way he moves — he’s a big lumbering guy,” Mann said of Jones. “He covers ground and he’s good catching the ball. You can tell that he hasn’t played a lot of receiver, but you can see that there’s a lot of promise there.”
While Jones made some nice blocks and catches in practice, his 237-pound frame also helps him stand out from his fellow South receivers, the biggest of which is Gibson, who is 6 foot 1, 193 pounds.
“I’ve had receivers that tall, but not quite that thick,” Mann said of Jones.
That said, Jones appears to be a better fit at tight end, a position Tampa Bay desperately needs to address through free agency and/or the draft due to the fact that Ken Dilger, Rickey Dudley and Dave Moore all have contracts that expire on March 1. It’s also conceivable that all three players could retire since they’re all over the age of 33.
He may not be the most polished receiver on the field, but so far Jones is showing that he has the hands, quickness and toughness to play receiver and/or tight end at the next level.
“He looks like he’s too big to play receiver, but after watching him out here it’s pretty obvious that he can run and that he’s quick,” said Shanahan. “The weight really doesn’t matter if you can run and catch the ball. That’s what he’s shown so far.”
Although he didn’t play receiver in college, some pro scouts and coaches feel Jones can make a somewhat smooth transition from quarterback to tight end because of the fact that he was asked to read defenses and understand route-running responsibilities of both receivers and tight ends as a signal caller in college. But do the Bucs concur with that notion?
“I think he can make the transition,” said Shanahan. “This is his first time doing this, so I’m not sure he was sure how it would go since he hasn’t been practicing for something like this, but it was natural to him.
“It helps because the quarterback works with the receivers on every play. He knows the routes and he knows the depth because he’s been throwing the depth and hitting the timing, so he knows how it works and he knows how that clock goes off for the quarterback. It’s a different view for him, but the less he can think about it the better he’ll be.”
While he still plans to audition as a quarterback at the NFL Combine next month, Jones makes for an intriguing prospect because of the fact that he could possibly help fill the Bucs’ needs for receivers, tight ends and a third-string quarterback.
After spending two days with Gruden and Co., playing for the Bucs is an opportunity he’d relish.
“I’m just trying to play for any team I can,” said Jones. “If the Bucs drafted me I’d be very excited to go play for Coach Gruden and the Buccaneers.”
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